Slandered as Political?
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“The biblical text is saturated with what we call ‘politics’—with national liberation remembered and expected, with law for daily life, with material care for the poor” —Catherine Keller, God and Power
A couple of years ago, I was honored to join several of my colleagues of faith on the writing team to create liturgy and worship resources for the World Council of Church’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Because Minneapolis was ground zero for international protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the Council invited clergy and activists of faith from the city to share their wisdom about the experience in the form of a liturgy. No sooner had the worship resources been published that the conservative news outlet The Daily Wire posted a story with a headline blaring, “Minnesota Group Steers Vatican-Led’ Christian Unity’ Week into U.S. Politics.” More surprising than the headline was to see them single me out by name, along with two of my colleagues of color, implying that we were responsible for “using the ideal of Christian unity to push a Marxist political agenda.” The article included no examples of anything in the liturgy that could be characterized as Marxist and dismissed our prayers for equity, justice, and compassion as solely political and, thus, unacceptable for worship.
The article’s writer saw our invitation to hear voices from the margins, testimonies of struggle under racism and police brutality, and articulations of the impact of political and economic disfranchisement as unacceptable, inappropriate rhetoric for the church’s liturgy. We mistakenly assumed that, despite our political and ideological differences, we would all be prepared and willing to hear the cries of God’s beloved for mercy and liberation in times of trouble. I suspect that dismissing our liturgy as “political” is an attempt to signal to others to avoid using our liturgy and preclude talk about oppression and injustice in the church.
But being political does not make us partisan; it makes us biblical. Theologian Catherine Keller notes that the biblical text is not squeamish about its engagement with what may be considered political. If the political nature of the biblical concerns bothers us, perhaps it says something about our resistance to the demands of discipleship vis-à-vis the oppressed, dominated, and exploited. Keller cautions the faithful to recognize our apocalyptic unconscious, feelings of impending catastrophe that prompt us to think in terms of black and white, us versus them, not just religiously but also politically. But I take the Jesus of the Gospels at his word that the reign of God has come near. And if there is indeed any concept of the new creation in that pronouncement, then our liturgy sought to reflect and anticipate an alternative ordering of our thinking and living to include within our prayers and moral imagination the plight of the most vulnerable among us. Perhaps that does make us political, prayerful, and biblical. Amen.